Homelessness and poverty are among the most painful and challenging issues facing our community today. The destructive hardship, hunger and hopelessness faced by the broken and vulnerable men, women and children in our city is profound. Regrettably, Washington, DC, has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the nation.
Central Union Mission is a faith-based, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and the oldest private social service agency in Washington, DC. For 138 years, the Mission has been a leader in serving people experiencing homelessness and poverty in Washington, DC, area. Compelled by its Christian faith, the Mission was initially founded with the goal of serving homeless veterans of the Civil War. Over time, its work has grown substantially to serve men, women and children of all faiths and backgrounds in need in the nation’s capital.
Today, the Mission remains 100 percent privately-funded and operates four facilities that provide a world-class platform to achieve long-term, sustainable and systemic change in the lives of the people it serves, while daily meeting the immediate needs of the chronically homeless and those at-risk of homelessness and poverty. GuideStar has awarded Central Union Mission a Gold Seal for financial transparency. GreatNonProfits has given the organization its Top-Rated award.
The Mission’s core programs and expertise include:
Clearly, we are not just a homeless shelter, but we are both a provider of life-sustaining food and shelter and an agent of long-term transformation. We serve all people, regardless of race, religion, age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or any other characteristic.
Our vision is to provide a world-class platform to achieve long-term, sustainable and systemic change in the lives of the people we serve, while daily meeting the immediate needs of the chronically homeless and those at-risk of homelessness and poverty.
Our passion is to serve and our programs will continue to do what we have done so well for 135+ years; shelter the homeless and feed the hungry. However, we are not content to simply maintain the status quo. We are striving to parlay our years of experience and expertise to restore the men we serve to wholeness in order for them to permanently get off of the streets, and we are serving women and children to ensure their basic needs are being met and mitigate their risk of homelessness.
People end up homeless for a variety of reasons. On the streets, a person’s physical, emotional and psychological health becomes compromised and an acculturated lifestyle makes it increasingly difficult to permanently escape homelessness. Once this cycle sets in, a person’s ability to acquire and maintain a job is diminished, family relationships are destroyed, addictions emerge, mental and physical health declines, self-esteem drops and a downward spiral continues.
Central Union Mission created the Restoration and Transformation Program (RTP) to provide a platform for men who have the desire and mental/emotional wherewithal to rehabilitate and stabilize all aspects of their lives and return to normal life. The 18 to 24 month program begins with a robust assessment of each person’s mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, educational and vocational status and an Individual Development Plan is created. A multidisciplinary team of social workers, chaplains, teachers, vocational instructors, doctors, therapists, and others walk with each man toward transformation. The goal is transformation and systemic, life-long change through comprehensive wrap-around services.
The vast majority of men who come to the Mission suffer with some history of addiction. We know that unless the addiction is addressed at the beginning, a person will not be successful in our program (or in life), so we provide both in-house programs to correct addictions, as well as intensive residential treatment through a close partnership with a third-party provider. Once a man is fully matriculated into the program, he is provided with a stable and safe environment with food and shelter so that he can focus on the hard work ahead of him.
The program and each day is highly structured, and over the course of the program every aspect of their lives are being addressed and transformed. Progressively, each man walks through his past issues, destructive thought and behavior patterns are addressed, addiction treatment continues, physical/dental/mental health issues are treated and their spiritual beliefs are explored. A strong program for workforce development and education provides opportunities to attain a high school diploma, skill certifications, life-skills, hard and soft job skills and long term employment placement. The goals are to equip each man with what he needs to be successful in the long-term and before he leaves our facility, we work to ensure he has a job, transitional or permanent housing, life skills, ongoing addiction support, and a church partnership, if desired. Restoration of family relationships are explored, as well.
The path to staying off of the streets, as well as the strategy to rebound from the impact of COVID, requires more than the provision of food and temporary housing. While these two essential things are absolutely needed and largely available in Washington, there is a greater void and need for comprehensive “wrap-around services;” those services that rebuild, restore and equip people for success.
In order to stabilize their families, return to the workforce and regain self-sufficiency, people impacted by poverty and/or the pandemic face a variety of challenges. The Mission has an established track-record and programs to help people in need improve their situations through social work, counseling, addiction support, education, job training and placement. Over the past three years, the Mission has expanded its social work services and refined its PATHWAYS Workforce Development and Education program, which has successfully helped rehabilitate and place in long-term jobs an average of 106 people experiencing homelessness each year.
The Mission’s whole-person approach will introduce a similar and uniquely tailored set of wrap-around services for the women and men who seek the support of the proposed Comprehensive Family Resource Center. This will include:
Job Training and Placement – we will help equip people for the new economy by expanding internal programming and partnerships with United Planning Organization, DC Central Kitchen, Building Futures, technical trade organizations and others. The Mission will offer specialized in-house and external job training and certifications; plus job placement counselors will mentor and guide program participants with their job searches and facilitate job placements;
Education – through both in-house specialists and a partnership with Saylor Academy, Catholic University of America, and University of District of Columbia adult family members will be assessed, enrolled in classes and coached to advance their academic and career goals; in-house classes will also be offered in life skills, citizenship, parenting, nutrition, budget management, and more;
Digital Literacy & Computer Access – to support participants’ educational and professional development, the Mission will provide instruction in computer skills and access to a computer library and resource center;
Social Work and Benefits Acquisition – in-house social workers will help individuals access the public benefits and other resources that are available to them; they will also partner with local health and human service agencies to help enroll individuals in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, School Lunch Program for their children, and other benefits; plus they will provide targeted support for veterans to ensure they get the maximum health, housing, and other assistance benefits that they are due. Our social workers will help those who are struggling mentally or emotionally from the impact of the pandemic, along with other debilitating challenges;
Parenting Classes – aimed at helping parents to adopt healthy behaviors and strategies to ensure healthy child development;
Child Day Care Guidance – providing referrals for daycare centers so that parents can pursue education and employment opportunities while their children receive loving care;
Housing – in addition to providing accommodations at our shelter and transition home, we will help individuals, families, senior citizens and the disabled find temporary – and ultimately long-term – housing by expanding our partnerships with DC Government, So Others Might Eat, Samaritan Inns, private housing entities and others;
ESL Classes – The Mission will provide English language training to those whose are speakers of other languages;
Healthcare – expanding our existing partnerships with Georgetown University Hospital, Unity Healthcare, and others in order to provide accessible in-house medical and mental health services, as well as assistance with acquiring insurance for families;
Addiction Recovery – building on our many years of experience providing this service at our shelter, we will assist those who struggle with addictions to overcome that burden;
Transportation Assistance – expanding its partnerships with Capital Bikeshare and public transportation providers so that family members have a means to get to work and classes;
Veterans Benefits – expand the Mission’s partnership with the Veteran’s Administration, Disabled American Veterans, Pathways to Housing, Friendship Place and other service providers to ensure that veterans get the maximum health, housing, and assistance benefits that they are due;
Legal Assistance – expanding services through our in-house partnership with Christian Legal Aid to help family members resolve their personal legal troubles, evictions, debts and other legal problems;
“Micro-Loans” – the Mission will offer small loans to families who need assistance with things like a security deposit for an apartment or equipment for a new job. This will be tightly managed and people will need to qualify;
Spiritual Discipleship – The Mission will expand its offering of chaplain services, spiritual care, Bible studies and discipleship;
And, of course, food and clothing.
Combatting homelessness and poverty requires a vast array of agencies, services and partnerships. Public- private partnerships are critical, as well. While these populations are served by a number of wonderful charities, churches and DC government agencies, there is a critical need for increased partnership, collaboration and advocacy to avoid duplication, mitigate gaps in service delivery and promote shared investments in the community.
As a long-standing leading voice against homelessness and poverty in DC, we are working to provide additional leadership, direction and connectedness among stakeholders. As such, we are engaging both DC government and our peers to “move-the-needle” on accessibility and coordination of services, and to better leverage resources and reduce duplication of efforts where they may be wasteful. Among churches and other faith-based institutions, we are catalyzing a movement for these groups to prioritize homelessness and local poverty among their ministry objectives.
The goal is to increase accessibility of services for helping people in need while creating more efficiency and impact.
Washington, DC, has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the nation. Despite the common misperception that all homeless people are either drug users, mentally ill or just not trying hard enough, the reality is that people from all walks of life fall victim to it — young, old, male, female, singles and families, educated, uneducated, black, white, brown and all ethnicities and nationalities. Homelessness and poverty painfully dehumanizes individuals and puts stress on our socio-economic systems. It is a problem that civil society must own.
The work of Central Union Mission and its strategic plan helps restore hope and dignity to these men, women and children, and helps us fulfill the Biblical calling to “love thy neighbor.” Moreover, the Mission’s work helps to create safer streets, reduce unemployment, and reduce expense on local government. The Mission stands as an indispensable partner for individuals, churches, corporations, government and foundations in our collective efforts to help those in need in our nation’s capital. Our strengths are found in the following: